Shop owners happy to be working during struggling time

NORTH COUNTY — Some salons and barbershops in North County are braving the elements — triple-digit heat and windy conditions currently — after moving outside per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direction.

On July 13, when COVID-19 cases were spiking in the state, Newsom ordered personal care businesses such as salons and barbershops to close. Less than a week later, he said they could reopen if they could do it outside.

Diane Howard, a long-time owner of Morjesi’s Salon in downtown Atascadero, set up a canopy in front of her shop at 5905 Entrada and decorated it with colorful festival blankets to shade clients from the sun.

And, after securing a permit from the City of Atascadero, she was back in business. Well, kind of.

“There is only so much we can do out here,” Howard said. “We can’t rinse. Nobody can go inside.”

All they can do is cut and style. They ask people to wash their hair before they come. Everybody is required to wear face masks.

Morejesi’s has eight stations inside and pre-COVID-19 they were booked solid daily. They were closed for three months due to Newsom’s stay-home orders and allowed to reopen in June.

“And then we were open for six weeks, things were going good,” Howard said. “We were working in shifts. We were complying, getting clients to wear masks, making it a priority. Kind of got everything tuned in, got our schedules back, just making it work.”

Howard said they have found a way to make it work again.

“We have eight stations in there, and we could maybe push out 60 people a day,” she said. “Out here six or seven, bare minimum. But at least it’s something. We are having to figure out who is going to work. Try to give everybody something. Even if they can work very part-time, it keeps things flowing, keeps our clients lined up, our schedules straight.”

The 9’s is working outside behind their salon in Templeton under a large canopy. Photo by Brian Williams

That same optimism is echoed in neighboring Templeton by Kasey Osman co-owner of The 9’s, 420 S. Main St. Osman and her twin sister Kelley took advantage of the ample space they have behind their shop.

“I’m thankful that we have some way that we can work,” Kasey said.

They rented a large canopy and set up four stations and still had room for two more. They decorated the area with plants and have corn hole boards set up as well. They also have misters at the ready.

“We were concerned that this would go on for months, so we really wanted to be accommodating to people as much as we could,” Kasey said of the elaborate outdoor spa-style setting. “It’s comfortable out here. We just felt we had an obligation to our clients and our staff to do it.”

Kasey said the response from the community has been positive.

“I’ve heard many people say they enjoy the experience of getting their hair done outside,” she said. “People have been very supportive.”

The only problem now for The 9’s is getting people to realize it’s open again. The setup is not visible to people driving by on Main Street. There is signage on the shop’s front doors and windows and displayed on the sidewalk directing people to the back of the shop next to McPhee’s Grill.

“We are open,” Kasey said. “We are willing to do this as long as we can. We will do anything to stay open. Just let us stay open. I don’t want an unemployment check. I want to work.”

Felix Lopez, the owner of Felix’s Barber Shop, 8420 El Camino Real, also wants to work, and although people can easily see his canopy and chairs from the road, business is slow.

“People are staying home, they are scared, they don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Before COVID-19, all four of his shop’s chairs were busy. He’d barely have time to eat.

“I wouldn’t have time for you. Every chair was filled up, all four barbers going,” he said. “It was nonstop. My lunch was a granola bar. Now, I got time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all at one time. It’s been extremely slow.”

Not even a quarter of what it was, Lopez said.

Being outside reminds him of his early days when he cut hair out of his garage. Except being in the garage was better than the sidewalk in front of his shop.

“Outside, it’s terrible,” he said. “The lighting is terrible. You got hot days. You don’t want to see your customers sweating. It’s windy, hair is blowing everywhere.

“I bought this establishment over 15 years ago. I pay rent, but yet I have to work outside,” he added.

Lopez is trying to stay positive but admits it’s hard to see people struggle to support their families. He’s hopeful this does not drag on into the fall and winter.

“Hopefully, we don’t have to be out here in the wintertime when it rains,” Lopez said. “How long we can keep going like this, that is hard to say. We are all struggling.”